impossible discs

This article, the first of a projected series of three, surveys part of the Opera Queen's beloved Land of It-Might-Have- Been. I submit for your fascination a selective account of how the best-laid plans of the recording studios have often not followed the courses originally envisioned for them. Recalling tidbits from magazines like High Fidelity and Gramophone, diva bios, books like Ring Resounding, and, of course, the usual rumor mill (our second-favorite oral tradition), I shall reveal casting choices which were planned or promised for major recordings but never came to pass.

Now, proposals like a Fischer-Dieskau Siegmund, a Caballe Abigaille or a Freni Turandot, which the artists may have considered for a moment but generally were to reject in short order (leaving us with, in descending order of felicity, James King, Ghena Dimitrova and Katia Ricciarelli), are not the order of the day here. Though I can in many cases cite which issue of Opera News or which chapter of Demented gave me the information I provide, some of what I offer here has been passed along less formally; moreover, even some of the stuff in print may be less than trustworthy (the pipe dream issue again), and in any case this topic is by its nature fairly subjective. I hope to hear from parterre box readers which tasty items I have missed and which details you feel should be clarified ...

A third article in this series will, among other things, discuss complete opera sets which were planned, begun or even completed without ever (as of this writing) seeing release. (The Sutherland/Pavarotti Ernani Decca just issued over a DECADE after being recorded would have been a prime candidate here, but never fear! -- there are many others like it.) For the first two, however, I shall focus on casting changes, dreaming of the day I write a similar study about the Silver Screen. (Did you know that Mandy Patinkin was fired from Mike Nichols' Heartburn after one day's shoot, to be replaced by Jack Nicholson? or that Miss Joan Crawford was originally signed for From Here to Eternity, only to be passed over when she pushed too hard in salary negotiations? But that's another article ...)


{short description of image}Before they were busting a gut or ten in their overblown stadium appearances, sometimes it seems like these gentlemen have spent nearly as much time giving up (or being fired from) studio recordings, only to be replaced by others. To be fair, Placido Domingo (here as elsewhere), actually comes off as Mr. Nice Guy a few times, rescuing the second Scotto Butterfly when Giacomo Aragall dropped and, quite late in the gameNeil Shicoff cancelled (or was it the other way round?). Not his best recording, but he flew in on something like 24 hours' notice, so cut him some slack! Similarly, the Bernstein Messa da requiem, recorded for both audio and video, was one of the young Domingo's many appearances as a substitute for Franco Corelli: he did this many times onstage, but this is the only recording I know which he took for an indisposed or unwilling Franco. (Carlo Bergonzi did the same on the Gardelli Forza, and I for one am thrilled he did.)

The Solti Carmen, though originally planned with Domingo, was almost a Pavarotti role debut, since Decca unsurprisingly wanted to feature their exclusive artist. Of a different nature was another Domingo-for-Pavarotti substution: the soundtrack of the Ponnelle Butterfly film, which was otherwise identical to the Decca CDs. (Mr. Domingo brushes over this snub gracefully in his memoir, but I guess we now know why that Salzburg Trovatore was the last Pavarotti-Karajan collaboration ...)

But Mr. Domingo's cancellations or disappearances from recording plans are memorable too. Sometimes he performed a role "live" but wouldn't or couldn't show up for the recording -- Percy on the Varviso Anna Bolena, for instance (which the late John Alexander very memorably graced, as Decca's recent CD reissue reminds us) --, but more often he never recorded a part he promised over and over to learn especially for records: Bacchus in Ariadne (which Karl Boehm wanted for his DG set and James Levine thought he had in the bank for his; Jess Thomas and Gary Lakes made the recordings) and Waldemar in Gurre-Lieder (holding Chailly's Decca recording up for some time, until Siegfried Jerusalem finally stepped in). The tragic saga of the Solti Tristan remake, which I shall tell in a future installment, long had a hemming-and-hawing Domingo attached as Tristan; any bets whether his projected Wagner recordings opposite Jane Eaglen for Sony (Tristan, plus all the big tenor parts in the Ring!) will come off?

One last Domingo departure -- from the cancellation-prone DG West Side Story -- brings us to Jose Carreras, who recorded the part after Neil Shicoff and Francisco Araiza also proved unavailable. (Jerry Hadley, who would have been ideal, was at the time not considered enough of a "name"; any word on the more recent recording he and the perennially perky Dawn Upshaw were supposed to have made? Other changes here involved Marilyn Horne, originally considered for Anita, replacing Jessye Norman in "Somewhere" (though Jessye later recorded the solo anyway over Bernstein's orchestral tracks!) and Tatiana Troyanos taking Anita. I've even heard tell that Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was a replacement Maria, but I have no idea for whom ...)

Mr. Carreras, whose illness delayed the Philips La juive (which he eventually completed, more than respectably), did not make his originally announced appearance in the Mehta Traviata with Dame Kiri and Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Alfredo Kraus, that soul of youthful vigor who in better days had already graced two recordings of the opera for EMI, was apparently the only tenor anyone could find, and he thus enjoys the unusual distinction of being the only Alfredo on disc (or perhaps anywhere) nearly twice his "father's" age.

{short description of image}As for Luciano Pavarotti, well, it turns out he has been the best citizen of all when it comes to actually making it through the recordings he has signed for; no doubt this has something to do with his being the most exclusively contracted of the Three. His recordings may take a while to appear (Ernani, the second Trovatore, maybe even the mysterious third Rigoletto, recorded with the Met for DG), but once announced, they do tend to surface eventually. So I'll close this section with a weird coda: did you know that Pavarotti was once announced to sing Count Almaviva on the second Abbado/DG Barbiere? As if the Domingo Figaro wasn't a weird enough idea ... Well, anyway, in the event the much-more-suitable Frank Lopardo took the part, sounding tonally darker than his (tenor) Figaro but making neat work of his difficult arias. To continue for a moment with tenors already mentioned: Another recording windfall came Frank Lopardo's way when Vinson Cole proved to be unavailable for the Solti Cosi remake. Neil Shicoff disappeared not only from the Maazel Butterfly discussed but also from the Rizzi Faust (Jerry Hadley filled in) and the Haitink Rosenkavalier (Richard Leech deputized). In both cases, I'm rather glad of the replacements.

{short description of image}Franco Corelli's withdrawal from the Gardelli Forza meant he was declining his second chance to record that opera commercially, as he had already yielded the Schippers set to Richard Tucker. Mr. Tucker was therefore recording that opera for the second, better time; compare how personal problems and/or disagreements (details vary depending upon whom one asks) saw Jussi Bjoerling withdraw from Solti's first Ballo recording even though taping had begun; Carlo Bergonzi replaced him and, as Domingo later would, ended up recording the whole opera twice within six years. As with Tucker's two Forza sets, separated by a decade, the second is preferable in just about every respect. Sadly, this was the second Ballo recording Mr. Bjoerling should have graced but did not, as the Toscanini set was also originally intended for him. (Jan Peerce was the substitute in that case.) Mr. Corelli also was meant for the von Matacic Fanciulla, which must be among the most recast sets, what with Birgit Nilsson filling in for Maria Callas, Joao Gibin replacing Corelli and Andrea Mongelli subbing for Tito Gobbi! Only three other opera sets come to mind as having had so many changes: the Beecham Zauberfloete (which saw Richard Tauber, Herbert Janssen and Alexander Kipnis replaced by Helge Roswaenge, Walter Grossmann and Wilhelm Strienz), the first Solti Meistersinger (which lost Gundula Janowitz, Alberto Remedios, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Karl Ridderbusch for Hannelore Bode (did ever Evchen deserve two recordings less?), Rene Kollo, Bernd Weikl and Norman Bailey) and the Serafin Otello (see the end of this section).

Casting the tenor parts in Wagner opera recordings has always been a problem, of course. The most famous example must be poor Ernst Kozub, in whom the gap between natural vocal endowment and depth of artistry was, it seems, staggeringly broad. Try though they might, Solti and the Decca engineers could not coax a respectable Siegfried out of him, despite all the time and effort expended in the effort. In the end, they persuaded him to let them dissolve his contract, and Wolfgang Windgassen replaced him on both Siegfried and (later) Goetterdaemmerung.

Less well- known, perhaps, is the story of how history seemed to be repeating itself with the Levine Ring decades later. Levine and Haitink were both circling for a viable Siegfried, and here timing proved to be everything: Siegfried Jerusalem's decision to assume the part at Bayreuth coincided better with EMI's recording plans than DG's since the latter company was going ahead with Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung earlier. DG had hoped to use Peter Hofmann, but by 1987 that just wasn't viable, so Reiner Goldberg, more respectable, less viscerally thrilling but at least never embarrassing as Siegfried, made the recordings. At least the Met got to use Mr. Jerusalem as their video Siegfried.

Three other replacements bear mention before we survey the lower-voiced men. Fritz Wunderlich's untimely death brought Peter Schreier to the first Boehm/DG Don Giovanni (an unhappy recording all round, in the event). More pleasantly, Michael Sylvester was replaced on the Conlon Oberon by Ben Heppner. And most curiously, the reason a young Jon Vickers was asked to record Otello with Tullio Serafin even though he had yet to assume the part onstage was because the original project -- a Fritz Reiner Otello with Jussi Bjoerling (who would have likewise been making his role debut) and Victoria de los Angeles -- had all but evaporated. (Leonie Rysanek, who would disappear from other RCA Verdi recordings around that time, sang Desdemona.)

I have comparatively little detail about cancellations involving baritones and basses. Do they tend to be less temperamental, or is my own diva fixation preventing me from remembering stories about these gentlemen? I leave the matter for you to judge! In any case, the first of our two cancelling basses is Samuel Ramey, with two stories to his credit. First, though he was once mentioned as a participant in the aforementioned Bonynge Ernani, the recording came out with ... Paata Burchuladze. More recently, he withdrew from the Abbado Figaro (which would have offered his first-ever Count Almaviva) and was hastily replaced with Boje Skovhus, who ended up contributing one of the few selling points of this disappointing recording.

That leaves our other bass as Nicolai Ghiaurov, who (rumor has it) showed up drunk for the Maazel Luisa Miller sessions, fell over a music stand and was replaced immediately. Like Carlo Bergonzi in Ballo and Richard Tucker in Forza, Bryn Terfel happened upon one of his two Salome recordings as a replacement: the Sinopoli was originally slated for Ekkehard Wlaschiha, so he (like Jon Vickers' first Otello) learned the part of Jokanaan especially for the first recording but benefited from stage experience in making his second. (Like Vickers, he's fresher and more straightforward on the first.) Matteo Manuguerra's fine performance as Nabucco for Riccardo Muti came when neither Piero Cappuccilli nor Sherrill Milnes, both associated with the project, proved unavailable.

{short description of image}I already mentioned how Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau did not record Meistersinger with Solti; his Hans Sachs, an assumption for records only, was conducted by Eugen Jochum. Later, he turned down what might have been the perfect stage role for him -- Beckmesser -- when the Sawallisch recording was made; Siegfried Lorenz took it. He did, however, deputize on the ill-starred Gardelli Macbeth, which most people (including her, no doubt) remember as an Elena Suliotis nightmare; Tito Gobbi and Sherrill Milnes were both mentioned in connection with this recording, but though the veteran Gobbi had signed for it, he was too ill to perform, so Fischer-Dieskau went on in his place. Those of you who treasure this album for Luciano Pavarotti's for-records-only Macduff should thank Mr. Fischer-Dieskau, who stood at the tenor's side and cued his every entrance.

All the diva stories you could want along these lines, including at least five Caballe replacements and three each for Rysanek and Stratas! (And in the third installment, revealed at last: what ever happened to that Giulini/DG Traviata with Rosalind Plowright?) -- in part two.

Ortrud Maxwell

This article originally appeared in parterre box, the queer opera zine.